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Reporter contacts Schwab. Employee gets canned. Now, company faces age discrimination lawsuit

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A former relationship manager is suing Charles Schwab for alleged age discrimination after the firm disciplined and fired her for allegedly violating company policy on email communications — punishment she claims younger colleagues didn’t face.

Monica Knowles, 63, started working at Schwab in 2014 as a senior relationship manager, according to the lawsuit, which was filed this week in a federal court in Michigan. The lawsuit states that she was the oldest person employed under her direct supervisor, a managing director not named in the lawsuit.

While Knowles and her attorneys did not respond to multiple requests for comment, Schwab spokesman Peter Greenley confirmed that Knowles worked specifically with RIA clients.

In summer 2016, clients allegedly emailed Knowles about the enforcement of an SEC statute, according to the lawsuit, which did not specify the statute. That November, Schwab gave employees, including Knowles, talking points with which to address client questions about the topic.

Knowles subsequently paraphrased some of the talking points in an email answering a client’s questions about enforcement of the statute, according to the complaint. The client then posted that answer on a blog, according to the lawsuit.

An unidentified journalist later asked Schwab if the the email represented the company’s official position on the enforcement of the SEC statute, according to court documents.

Schwab spokesman Peter Greenley declined to comment on the company’s employee policy regarding the press.

In January 2017, Schwab put Knowles on written warning regarding email infractions over the incident as well as for sending company emails to her personal email address.

Knowles’ lawsuit reads: “Younger employees who engaged in the same or similar behavior were not disciplined.”

In June 2017, the managing director began discussing termination of Knowles’ employment with her. Also that month, one of Knowles’ clients, unhappy with a mass email Schwab had sent to its RIA clients regarding custody of assets, complained directly to Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger, according to the lawsuit. Later that month, Knowles received a written warning from Schwab claiming that the email to the CEO demonstrated the relationship manager “did not have control of the client.”

“I was placed on a written warning because my direct supervisor believed that because of this one client’s actions, I had lack of client control,” Knowles wrote in a document attached to the lawsuit.

In August 2017, the managing director told Knowles he wanted her to leave Schwab by early September. In September, Schwab terminated Knowles. Knowles claims she was replaced with an employee under the age of 40.

Schwab has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit. Greenley provided the following statement:

"Providing equal employment opportunities to all of our employees is a key part of Schwab’s commitment to building a dynamic and diverse organization and culture. Schwab complies with all applicable employment laws. While we dispute the claims of this case, it is our general policy not to comment publicly on pending litigation, including litigation involving current or former employees."

Knowles is currently employed as the managing director of the Ann Arbor, Michigan branch of the $10.7 billion RIA Mercer Advisors.

Before employment at Schwab, Knowles worked at several other firms, including J.P. Morgan Securities and Nationwide’s fund distribution company.

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